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Having just returned from two weeks of adventure and many stories from Peru, my original thought was to share one photo from each day. However, with thousands of photos and dozens of stories, that became an impossible task. So, here are a few photos of our time in Lima, followed by an account of our work with students at Picaflor House, our visits to Machu Picchu,  and finally some of our encounters with remote island communities.

A. Life in Lima

Lima is a city of ten million, perched on a cliff above the Pacific Ocean. With the Andes mountains on one side and ocean currents on the other, Lima is actually a desert region. As well, for eight months each year, it experiences continuously overcast skies, so much so that the highrise buildings face inland because there is seldom a view over the ocean.

People flock to the beaches of Lima on a sunny day
On a sunny Sunday afternoon, residents of Lima flock to the beaches for family picnics and play time.
pelicans and people flock to the beaches of Lima
At the marina, markets sell the latest catch while the pelicans wait for handouts.
woman selling products on the streets in Lima
A smile from a street vendor in Lima. Although the economy forces people to work for minimal amounts, often at 2-3 jobs, there is no shortage of smiles.
happy vendors in Lima
Street vendors at a market in Lima ham it up for the camera.
A man dives off a steep cliff into the ocean.
Legend tells us that a monk fell in love with a woman and, when her father heard of it, sent her away by boat. The monk dove off these cliffs to swim after her. Today, the legend is kept alive by this man diving in monk’s robes to the cold and turbulent waters of the Pacific.
a park with water fountains attract crowds.
One of Lima’s many parks has dozens of water fountains, especially beautiful at night with colourful lights.
waves relentlessly pound the beaches.
The never ending rhythm of waves on the beach create beautiful patterns … but not if they consume your car.
flowers bloom year round in Lima
Lima’s warm climate means flowers bloom throughout the year. Amazing to see this in autumn.
Buildings of Lima reflect Spanish architecture.
Spanish architecture is evident throughout the city.
Street vendors on every corner of Lima.
Even in a city the size of Lima, street vendors provide friendly meeting points for neighbours to pick up a few groceries.
paraglider travel on the winds
With the bluffs next to the ocean, the wind currents are ideal for paragliding.
sun sets after a sunny day in Lima.
Rare clear skies gave us a beautiful sunset.
Sun sets in Lima.
Palm trees and a lighthouse create a beautiful foreground to a colourful sunset.
heavy traffic in Lima.
Below the cliffs, the freeway never stops moving high volumes of traffic through the city. Driving anywhere in Peru is the craziest, most dangerous encounter I have ever seen. Pedestrians literally have no rights.
Mother Mary in a park of Lima.
A Catholic nation, Peru has many symbols to remind people of their spiritual heritage.

B. The Reason for the Trip

Well, really, there were two reasons. We definitely wanted to visit Machu Picchu but a huge reason to travel to Peru was the chance to meet and work with children at Picaflor House, an after school program for at-risk children in a small village one hour from Cuzco.

The children attend public school from about 8:30 am to 1:30 pm. At 2:00, they walk a couple of blocks to Picaflor House, where they are greeted warmly, fed well and given opportunities to play and learn until 5 pm. Students attend on a voluntary basis and there is no charge. The program has three paid staff and several volunteers to work with the children. The children learn English, practice school concepts like Math and Reading, and get help with homework. There are about 80 children in regular attendance.

A girl entering PIcaflor House
Picaflor is a Spanish word for hummingbird. These beautiful birds are thought of as bringers of love, joy and healing. The uniform is from their public school.
The reason for the trip: the opportunity to work with children and teach them a little about photography. These two 9-year-olds were my photo students during our visit. Lucky me!
On our first afternoon together, we went on a treasure hunt, looking for things to photograph in their community. It was a great chance to build bridges in spite of the language barrier. Their English was much more useful than my Spanish!
young children photograph an old woman
One of the items on our treasure hunt was to photograph a stranger. The girls (with Tracy, a volunteer) asked to photograph this woman, resulting in a very happy exchange.
students eat a meal together at Picaflor House
When students arrive for the afternoon, they are given a hearty meal. It seems to be appreciated!
students brush their teeth after lunch
Can’t have a meal without brushing your teeth!
Children play soccer
After lunch, playtime is the priority.
Children play marbles.
Marbles are a very popular play activity. After laying down in the dust to get this picture, I was surrounded by kids who were eager to brush the dust off me!
Manager of the program plays with children.
This is Laura, the manager of Picaflor House. A native of Britain, her vision for the program is clear. She does everything possible to bring the best experiences possible to the children.
Children's playground at Picaflor House.
A view of the playground from one of the second floor windows. This place is ‘home’ to the children and they make full use of every bit of it. The murals on the walls were painted by the students with help from previous visiting groups of helpers.
Children love to play in the sandbox.
The sandbox is always busy. Kids play is universal!
Children play at races.
Play has many forms and can be quite inventive!
A children's library.
The program has a library and a few classrooms for children to practice their skills and get help.
Visiting a child's home in Peru.
One of the highlights was a visit to the home of one of the children. The parents graciously invited us in and showed us around their home.
A family poses for a portrait.
This family has four children plus an older brother who joined the military. A few days later, the family received a large family portrait.
Teaching photography to children.
My friend Buzz and I enjoying the interest of the kids in photography. Thanks to Chandler for the photo of me.
Teaching photography to children
Misty (l) and Janet, two of the participants with The Giving Lens, share photography with their children.
student intent on photographing a shape.
Taking it seriously! Star students abound.
Happy children have fun with photography
You just never know what will appear on the other side of your lens when you’re surrounded by happy children!
Children are given a snack at the end of the day.
Each afternoon ends with a healthy snack for the walk home.
Traditional Peruvian dancing.
On our last day, we were honoured with a performance by some the students of traditional Peruvian dancing.
smiling children in Peru.
Our reason for being there. Children deserve every opportunity for success. For more about Picaflor House, click here. And for more about The Giving Lens: Travel Photography with a Purpose, click here.
a child and a llama in the Andes mountains.
A beautiful child plays with a Llama while her mother offers her hand made goods for sale. Scenes like this were not unusual as we travelled back and forth to Picaflor House.


C. On to Machu Picchu

Our group of 7 participants and two leaders with The Giving Lens were very excited to add to our stories from Peru while visiting Machu Picchu. Who doesn’t have this place on their bucket list? We planned on two consecutive days at the site, just in case weather interfered with our photographic plans. It turned out to be a great idea.


The moon shines on the mountains over Machu Picchu
We got up very early on our first morning to get up to Machu Picchu before the crowds. We hoped to catch good light without hordes of people all over the site. It was amazing how many people had the same idea. The line up for buses was blocks long.
Early morning light on Machu Picchu.
Success! Early morning light skimming over the mountain tops lands right in the heart of Machu Picchu. When we first arrived, I was so struck with the magnificence of the scene, I just sat and soaked it in for several minutes before I could think of making a picture.
Early morning light on Machu Picchu.
A short time later, the scene is flooded with light on a beautiful morning. Translated from the Quechuan language, Machu Picchu means Old Mountain. The peak in the background appears like a sentinel, watching over the site, with outstretched, protective arms.
Different scenes of Machu Picchu in morning light.
Walking around the scene, it’s hard not to make dozens of similar photographs, just to take it in. This city of about 2000 was built in the 1400s and abandoned one century later, when the Spanish conquest took place. It is theorized that the inhabitants died of smallpox, brought over by the Spanish.
A stone window frames the site of Machu Picchu.
The city remained untouched but overgrown for centuries until rediscovered in 1911. Restoration work followed and, in 1983, UNESCO designated Machu Picchu a World Heritage Site, describing it as “an absolute masterpiece of architecture and a unique testimony to the Inca civilization.”
A llama guards over the Machu Picchu site.
Llamas wander the site and can be aggressive with photographers and others that take their liberties. This one quietly takes in the scene.
A jungle atmosphere around Machu PIcche in the rain.
For our second visit to the site, we planned to climb one of the adjacent mountains for an overview. However, heavy rains changed our plans and gave us a different scene to photograph. The vegetation in the area feels like a jungle.
Machu Picchu surrounded by rain clouds.
Viewing the site through the mist from a different vantage point offers a unique perspective on Machu Picchu.
Inca engineering stands the test of time.
The Incas were master engineers. The stones fit so tightly together it’s no wonder they are still standing, even in a region prone to earthquakes. Windows were trapezoidal to gain strength and walls leaned inward slightly to add stability.
Inca stone structures were built to last.
The stone structures have survived seismic activity and torrential rains over the centuries.
The Inca stone quarry at Machu Picchu.
Looking back from the heart of the site, the quarry where the stones were cut and shaped is looks like a pile of rubble.
Terraces were for agriculture as well as managing runoff from heavy rains.
Terracing is evident over much of the site. Although it may have been for agriculture, it also was used to prevent erosion during heavy rainfalls. The terraces are layered with stones and gravel to facilitate the drainage of water.
A restored hut overlooks the site of Machu Picchu.
A restored hut overlooks the site of Machu Picchu.
vegetation grows well around Machu Picchu
Thick vegetation is always ready to take over the site.
Our group of nine in front of Machu Picchu
Our intrepid team of adventurers with The Giving Lens. Jeff Bartlett Photo.

D. Stories from Peru:  Lake Titikaka

After saying good bye to our new friends with The Giving Lens, my friend Buzz and I traveled to Lake Titikaka, the world’s highest navigable lake at 12,000 feet. The lake is between Peru and Bolivia and includes three distinct island communities.

Mountain roads through the Andean highlands.
Heading east toward Lake Titikaka, our bus took us through the Andean highlands.
After a night in the city of Puno, we travelled by pedicab to the shore of Lake Titikaka. While we enjoyed the ride, the traffic had our hearts in our mouths with the constant onslaught of honking, lane crowding and crazy, aggressive driving. I’ll never criticize Canadian drivers again!
islands made of reeds on Lake Titikaka.
Our first stop was the reed islands of the Lake. These people make their own islands out of the reeds which grow abundantly in the lake. The reeds are also used for food and shelter.
duck hunters
This duck, known as the chicken of the sea, is hunted by the locals and used for food.
The women of the reed islands make beautiful garments for tourists, an important part of their income.
Reed islands let 300 years.
This hand made island will last 300 years with the maintenance provided by the residents. Each island includes a community of several families. There is no electricity or plumbing but recently, the Peruvian government provided solar collectors for each family so they have electric lights in their huts.
Hand made reed boats ferry tourists.
The hand made reed boats are used to ferry the passengers and provide income for the communities.
Our second stop on Lake Titikaka was to Amantini Island. Pictured here is Alejandro, waiting to welcome us to his home for an overnight stay.
An elderly couple prepare a meal for their guests.
As Alejandro serves soup for lunch, his wife Grassiela prepares the next course of corn. We felt so privileged to share a table with this gracious couple.
Grassiela preferred her spot on a tiny stool next to the oven and food preparation area while the rest of us sat at the table. To her left is the wood fired oven with chimney above.
After lunch, we hiked to the top of Amantini Island, to visit the temple of Mother Earth. It was a hike of 2000 feet in altitude, getting us to 14000 ft. It was such a challenge at those altitudes that a local on horseback arrived, offering his horse with the word, “Taxi!” Along the way, many women and children were set up to offer us their hand made products for sale.
Rock walls designate areas for farming on the island.
Nearing the top of the island, rock walls are used to separate plots used for growing or grazing.
Terracing is evident everywhere to maximize the agricultural potential.
Sunset on the top of Amentini Island. The next island, Taquile, is our stop for the next day.
After a delicious dinner with Alejandro and Grassielas, we joined other visitors and locals to enjoy live music and dancing.
Everyone enjoyed dancing to the sounds of the local band.
The next morning, we had a delightful visit from their 5-year-old granddaughter who also performed a special song for us.
Our homestay with Alejandro and Grassiela was a highlight of our entire trip. Although we had no common language, we sensed a deep bond between us.


Taquile Island on Lake Titikaka
Our final stop on Lake Titikaka was the island of Taquile. A UNESCO world heritage site, the island is famous for its high quality textiles.
Steep hills on the island of Taquile.
Our first encounter with the island was the impossibly steep hill we had to walk up. We felt sheepish, however, when we saw the locals walking up with heavy bags on their backs. All I could think of is why they didn’t have a conveyer system.
A 94 year old man knits on the island of Taquile
Ninety-four years old and still knitting! This man sitting in the sun and visiting with his neighbours, commented that his hearing is not so good anymore but his vision is just fine. The island was recognized by UNESCO for creating textiles that are among the world’s best. And guess what? All of the knitting is done by the men, starting in boyhood. The women spin the wool (even while walking around) and use vegetable dyes to colour it. They also weave many products such as colourful belts and hats.
Clothing on Taquile Island is strictly controlled.
Clothing worn by the residents follows strict guidelines. The marital status of men and women is indicated by the colour of their dress. This woman is married but the young man is single.
A man checks the clothing worn by the locals.
This man is one of several agents who ensure conformity to the island’s dress code. If a resident leaves the island, their clothing is checked upon their return and a fine may be levied if they do not conform.
A figure of Chris overlooks the city of Puno.
The city of Puno overlooks Lake Titikaka.

In Closing

There are so many more pictures and stories from Peru that could be included. Peru is a wonderful destination, a country filled with colour, culture and history. We loved seeing and learning about the rich traditions of Peru. And, in spite of an economy that forces people to work 2-3 jobs and live with so much less than we can imagine, there is no shortage of smiles and friendly people. We’ll always feel a special connection to the many wonderful friends we made in Peru.Peruvian smiles





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